The evacuation of Afghanistan is going as nightmarishly as one can expect. Taliban forces are firing into crowds while people as they desperately try to escape a country that will fall back under the extreme views of these new oppressors. Seven so far have been killed. Many more are sure to follow.
Afghanis have died trying to flee. Images of people clinging, and falling, from US jets echo back to the chaos and terror that started this entire war on terrorism. And the Biden Administration is sending chilling messages to our allies. Yes, Joe Biden said “The Buck stops here.” But to strand thousands of American citizens and Afghani allies for weeks with no guarantee of their being able to be safely evacuated, to have to trust the word of the Taliban fighters to allow “civilians” to evacuate when the evidence is clear that they will not, this is a wake-up call for Israel, South Korea, and Taiwan. This optics and poll obsessed decision making is going to cause untold collateral damage.
The US is tired, not of the endless wars, but for the lack of purpose. We fought the fight against fascism in Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Italy, waged war on Imperial Japan, and fought a cold war against Communist Russia because we knew that we had a purpose. Even in the beginning of the War on Terror, we had a purpose, to eliminate Osama Bin Laden, to destroy the capabilities of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, and to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a base of operations for future terror attacks. We went along, for the most part, because we believed we were doing the right thing. Yet we failed to ask ourselves to consider what we were trying to do.
The transition from the degradation of military capability for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda to the installation of an American-style democracy in Afghanistan was where we began to lose our focus, and ultimately, where we sowed the seeds to our own failure both now, and in the future.
In these efforts, we have seen our security state grow exponentially, and gradually be turned from foreign fighters, to American citizens, each step along the way providing justification for their creeping authoritarianism. We have routinely pressed our values onto a people that on the deepest level have a vastly different foundation from us. In the US, the individual is the basis for society. Our honor, our trust, our associations, in large part, rely not on who your family is, your ethnic heritage, religious background, or many other external means of demarcation, but rather in an ideological sense that our decisions, our actions, and our choices define and determine who we are. This has lead to the vast expansion of human rights over time, and the continuing work to expand those rights today. Our history isn’t perfect by any means, but we strive to, as Frederick Douglass said, “live up to [our] Constitution.” But crops cannot grow on infertile ground, and liberty cannot take root by imposition.
We stand at the precipice, gazing into the vast maw of history, seeing the bits and pieces of civilizations come and gone, and the ground is crumbling beneath us.